More MS news articles for August 1999

Still growing

Special techniques overcome limitations

Published Saturday, August 28, 1999, in the Herald-Leader

By Marty Hair

DETROIT -- At 23, Kerri Sarb was too busy to garden. Work, travel and dating filled her life.

But that year, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. And as her physical abilities have changed, Sarb has become accomplished at growing plants -- and at finding ways to keep active in the garden and in her life.

Sarb, now 36, who has secondary progressive MS, uses a wheelchair and a battery-operated Amigo vehicle. The Amigo carries her and her gardening equipment -- flats of annuals and bags of topsoil and mulch -- around the yard, an acre surrounding the home she shares with her husband, Dan, and their dog, Mattie.

Kerri has planted a medley of shrubs, annuals and perennials so eye-catching that passersby stop to look.

Beds more than a few feet deep or wide have paths down the center so Kerri can ride in or get off the vehicle and scoot in, pulling herself with her arms.

Experts on adaptive gardening and horticultural therapy continue to learn how gardening and tending plants is beneficial, particularly for people with physical and other challenges, including changing abilities due to age.

They say confronting gardening obstacles and finding or creating solutions can be liberating.

``It's a situation of getting over the hump, the limitation. Then all of a sudden they reach a therapeutic threshold, and they springboard even higher,'' said Dr. Joanne Westphal, a physician, landscape architect and associate professor of landscape architecture at Michigan State University. ``It's no longer a focus on the disability. It's a focus on the possibility.''

In other words, ``Where there's a will, there's a way,'' said Gene Rothert, manager of the Chicago Botanic Garden's newly expanded 11,000-square-foot Buehler Enabling Garden, which showcases adaptive gardening techniques.

Adaptive gardening techniques are suitable for any gardener of any age and ability, and especially for people undergoing therapy or recovering from illnesses.

In the past, U.S. hospitals often had central garden courtyards so patients could exercise and enjoy being outdoors, says Westphal, who teaches landscape architecture students how to design therapeutic gardens.

She said the garden courtyard is again becoming popular in hospital design as people recognize the restorative potential of being around plants and nature. Studies have shown that even a window view of a natural setting can speed a hospital patient's recovery.

Compared with traditional therapy like crafts, being around plants also stimulates the senses -- touch, smell, even taste, said Ed Krappmann, a former middle school science teacher who became disabled with foot problems, then arthritis, fibromyalgia and carpal tunnel syndrome.

``It's meaningful work. There's a lot of peace and enjoyment and soulfulness to it,'' Krappmann said.

As the number of middle-age and older people grows, manufacturers are taking into account the changing physical abilities that come with aging, Westphal said.

For instance, garden tools are now available with longer or foam-covered handles that are easier and more comfortable to use for people with limited hand motility and strength.

Westphal said, ``And, of course, if they're easier for the person with arthritis, they're easier for the average person as well.''

For more information
The Chicago Botanic Garden Web site -- -- includes references on enabling gardens as well details about the new Buehler Enabling Garden.